Homefront is the glue holding soldiers together

On Veterans Day I watched with interest the tributes to the generations of members of our armed services. The honor guards and displays of respect and patriotism were moving stuff, and always there was the backdrop of our country's fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No matter your perspective on the ongoing war, it's easy to be impressed by the commitment of the men and women of our military.

But in all the years I've watched Veterans Day, I've rarely heard much about the glue that holds most of those soldiers together through the hardest times. I am, of course, talking about the families of those service personnel.

I've been thinking about that since speaking with Margaret Yost, a delightful 91-year-old woman who spent most of her life as a serviceman's wife. Her husband, William Yost, was a transport pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and carved out a career in the U.S. Air Force that took him around the world and in and out of war zones, the last of which was Vietnam.

Margaret and Bill had four sons. The first, James William Yost, was a University of Nebraska graduate and a U.S. Navy pilot. Margaret was pregnant with young William in 1945 when her husband was flying troops and supplies over the Hump in Burma. The infant was 8 months old when he was first introduced to his papa.

Such sacrifices are common in military families. Events other families take for granted - births, ballgames, birthdays, band performances, school graduations - are missed while loved ones are thousands of miles from home.

Eldest son James William was killed during a military training exercise in Florida not long after second son Jerry went to Vietnam as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Today Jerry owns the American Cactus Divers shop in Henderson, but back then he flew his Chinook helicopter in harm's way on a daily basis. At the same time Jerry was flying helicopters, father Bill was stationed at Da Nang Air Base.

Their third son, Thomas, also graduated from the University of Nebraska and joined the Air National Guard before becoming an F-4 and F-16 fighter pilot. Now retired, Thomas trains F-16 pilots as a civilian at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Youngest son Barry didn't go into the military. Instead, he chose to get into a really dangerous line of work. He's a businessman who owns several convenience stores.

Of necessity Margaret became as efficient as any Marine at decamping on short notice, packing up her growing family and redeploying to a new assignment while her husband was flying troops and making safety inspections.

During her husband's career, Margaret and the boys lived in 17 different states and spent four years in Germany. Putting down roots and forging lasting friendships was a never-ending challenge, but it was all part of the family's unsung sacrifice.

"I think it's how you look at it," Margaret says. "You can make it bad, or you can make it good. I think that how the parents react is how the children are going to react."

Margaret taught her sons valuable lessons about independence and optimism.

"We were really a military family. We moved every four years," she says. "I told my boys to always look forward, never look back, even though they had to leave friends behind. They turned out great. I'm so proud of them."

She also made ends meet on an armed forces salary. That's never been easy. But, true to her nature, she can smile about that sacrifice, too.

"I'm not complaining about the pay," she says. "We all were in the military. We all were in the same pay schedule."

In good times and hard times, through wars and endless redeployments, she raised her family and made do without complaint. That is the life of countless military families in this country.

Bill Yost's military career spanned three decades. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. By the time of his death in 1985, the Yosts had been married 43 years, the majority of it spent in the service of their country.

On Veterans Day, one of the Yost boys said, "Mom, you're a veteran, too."

True to her selfless nature, Margaret Yost replied, "I hadn't thought of it that way."

• John L. Smith's column appears Thursdays in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.


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